Plain language: even buskers need it

Busker's PR: not plain language.
Plain English Week starts Sunday 28 August in New Zealand. Everyone needs to write clearly: even buskers.

Michel des Godins is a thrilling throat-singer, performing his incomprehensible poetry on the streets of Paris—through a false beard.

His documentation, on signs and on paper, is a nightmare. He's gone to a huge effort to explain himself, for nothing. My translation is wildly inaccurate because I couldn't bear to read more than the odd phrase. I think the young woman in the photo was equally puzzled.

"I've been kicked out of my lodgings yet again. The French people are slaves. Stamp out autism, stop the terror. Start a civil revolution for justice, equality, and the right of artisan poets to have a nice apartment free. Or something. Or the opposite."

Why not have a Plain Language Week in your country?
We've asked all our Members of Parliament to do two things this week—things we can all do:

  1. Boldly say the magic words: “Please explain what you mean!” whenever necessary.
  2. If you're asked to read a document that’s hard to understand, ask for a rewrite in plain English. Someone is wasting your time!

Clear writing is everyone's business
I used to worry that the plain language (or clear writing) principles might not easily apply to other languages. Differences abound between languages, after all. For example, clear writing includes structure: what do you write first, second and last? What do you include and leave out? Traditionally, document structure has varied widely between languages.

No problem!

Here's what Emma Wagner says about clear writing in the European Union, where translation challenges loom large. She'll be addressing a plenary session of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators Meeting 2010 in October.

In my talk I shall speak about the place of editing in the European Commission’s work, and the purpose and content of the Clear Writing campaign launched in 2010. [...]

[The EC Clear Writing campaign's] flagship publication ‘How to Write Clearly’ sets out ten top tips for clear writing and is available in all of the EU’s 23 official languages. The fact that translators of the booklet were able to adapt the tips to each language demonstrates, we hope, that they are language-independent.

To produce the guide, the Commission drew on the work of experts in plain language movements worldwide, and the campaign both acknowledges and encourages national contributions. As the campaign slogan goes: Clear writing is everyone’s business.

Plain language community in other countries


Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

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